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Photo Essay: CalArts Celebrates World Music And Dance

Aaron Liu |
May 16, 2013 | 8:01 p.m. PDT

Guest Contributor

CalArts students and faculty arrange themselves into a drum circle.
CalArts students and faculty arrange themselves into a drum circle.

What is the purpose of music? 

Hannah Dexter pauses for a moment to consider the question at hand. Dexter, a junior at the California Institute of the Arts who studies jazz and bass, is resting on a friend's couch after singing in a West African music and dance showcase for the CalArts World Music and Dance Festival, a six-concert spectacle organized by students and faculty.

It's an exhausting gig. Dexter also serves as the assistant producer for the festival, where she's also charged with managing media and keeping track of all the performers so that the week-long festivities can run smoothly. After the first night, her friends bought a case of beer to celebrate the festivities. Instead, she took a nap on their couch.

"Coping," she finally replies. 

"Any time I don't know how to address an emotion, music is the way I do it," she continues. "Happiness, anger, sexiness, boredom... grief..."

For Dexter and other students at CalArts, their waking life revolves around fine-tuning their artistic sensibilities. Musicians, filmmakers, painters, animators, actors and dancers from all over the world live and create together in the arid hills of Valencia, CA in a facility originally conceptualized by Walt Disney to be a sort of "Caltech of the arts." But for an institution associated with Disney -- a man who once banned long-haired hippies from entering his parks -- CalArts is exceedingly liberal. Jazz players can drift into dissonant realms without second thought and artists are free to adorn their galleries with whatever anatomical parts they feel like plastering on school walls.

Not that there aren't any rules however. For one, all music majors have to take a class in the world music department.

"In some cases, like jazz studies, it makes since jazz is derivative of African music," said Dexter.

 She explained that unlike other music schools, which usually only offer courses on the history and theory behind world music, CalArts stresses the importance of performing music from different cultures as well as understanding it from a historical and theoretical lens. Also Dexter emphasized the importance of using such newfound knowledge to build upon one's own creative voice, rather than simply reciting the ideas of others.

"The teachers within the world music department really encourage us to expand upon the music," said Dexter, "and not just to play it."

Robert Anderson is a first year masters student who studies jazz percussion. Anderson is participating in the West African music and dance showcase because he's taking the class. He explained that tonight's performance revolved around interlocking rhythmic patterns that took cues from a lead drum. 

"Some patterns are triplet based, some are eighth-note based -- not all are in a meter but it all fits into a bell," said Anderson. 

Constant immersion helped Anderson learn the routine. 

"I hear it every day," he shrugged, "whether I want to or not." 

Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole helped the students prepare for the West African music and dance showcase. She is the daughter of instructor Beatrice Lawluvi -- Ladzekpo-Cole stepped in during the last few weeks of class to help the students polish their moves. 

"I really wanted them to be nice and tight," said Ladzekpo-Cole.

"When you take events out of a traditional setting, when you have people that are going to watch, you will need to entertain them in some way," said Ladzekpo-Cole. "The purpose was to be really giving toward the energy, instead of just dancing for ourselves."

Below are a set of photos from the first two nights of the concert. 

Students at CalArts perform a traditional dance in the Balanise-Gambian style.
Students at CalArts perform a traditional dance in the Balanise-Gambian style.

Nyoman Wenten, a faculty member at CalAfts, performs the Jauk Manis Dance, a traditional dance in the Balanise-Gambian style. The mask he wears is meant to conjure both human and demonic elements.
Nyoman Wenten, a faculty member at CalAfts, performs the Jauk Manis Dance, a traditional dance in the Balanise-Gambian style. The mask he wears is meant to conjure both human and demonic elements.

S.K. Kakraba, a renowned virtuoso of the Kogiri Gyil instrument from North Africa, practices outside with one of his apprentices. They performed at the North African music and dance showcase.
S.K. Kakraba, a renowned virtuoso of the Kogiri Gyil instrument from North Africa, practices outside with one of his apprentices. They performed at the North African music and dance showcase.

S.K. Kakraba performs a piece on the Kogiri Gyil, a xylophone-type instrument from North Africa, during the CalArts World Music and Dance Festival
S.K. Kakraba performs a piece on the Kogiri Gyil, a xylophone-type instrument from North Africa, during the CalArts World Music and Dance Festival

Spellbound CalArts students, faculty, and visitors to the campus watch S.K. Kakraba's performance.
Spellbound CalArts students, faculty, and visitors to the campus watch S.K. Kakraba's performance.

 Prosper Nudzor, who coordinates lead drum calls with Andrew Grueshow (not pictured). "We're watching for calls from the lead drum," said Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole, who helped the dancers polish their moves during the last few weeks of rehearsal.
Prosper Nudzor, who coordinates lead drum calls with Andrew Grueshow (not pictured). "We're watching for calls from the lead drum," said Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole, who helped the dancers polish their moves during the last few weeks of rehearsal.

 "it's whatever repetitive thing feels good."
"it's whatever repetitive thing feels good."

Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole performs in the festival.
Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole performs in the festival.

Ryan Bancroft and Katty Glei perform a dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.
Ryan Bancroft and Katty Glei perform a dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.

Jackie Owens and Hae-Joon Lee perform a dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.
Jackie Owens and Hae-Joon Lee perform a dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.

Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole performs the Horsetail Atsia dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.
Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole performs the Horsetail Atsia dance during the CalArts 2013 World Music and Dance Festival.

Hannah Dexter takes down the drums after the performance.
Hannah Dexter takes down the drums after the performance.

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